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Joel Salatin, author, lecturer and owner of Polyface Farm in Virginia, is encouraged by recent news about commercial fertilizer shortages and price hikes — because “biology trumps the chemicals every day,” he said.
On a recent episode of “RFK Jr. The Defender Podcast,” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., asked Salatin what his reaction was to President Biden’s statement that the U.S. was likely to face food and fertilizer shortages due to the Russian embargo over Ukraine.
“I’m excited for the first time in my life — and I’m 65,” the farmer and author of 15 books on ecological agriculture told Kennedy, because “we’re seeing a resilience from regionally based, smaller-scaled kind of operations.”
Salatin and his family run Polyface Farm, which has been featured in more than a dozen documentaries as a “non-industrial food production oasis.”
According to Salatin:
“The fact of the matter is our farm doesn’t buy any chemical fertilizer. We don’t buy any of that stuff because we are running on biology, and biology trumps the chemicals every day.
“The earthworms don’t need chemical fertilizer. They don’t need petroleum. They need solar energy converted by chlorophyll and photosynthesis into sugars that the soil biology uses.”
Salatin told Kennedy the current shortages are largely affecting commercial farming operations that prioritize high-scale production. The two discussed how financial realities are incentivizing farmers to not use chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
“In today’s vulnerabilities, scale — which has always been touted as being the answer to everything — is now being seen as a liability, not an asset,” Salatin said.
“And so those of us that are running ‘speedboats’ instead of ‘aircraft carriers’ can navigate the disturbing waters that we’re in right now globally. We can navigate those much more efficiently.”
Salatin’s farm is now providing customers with lower meat prices than what many commercial stores can match. He told Kennedy the other day, a lady came into their farm store and was shocked.
“She looked at the meat counter, and said, ‘Wow, your sirloin steaks are $9 a pound. At Costco, they’re $16 a pound.’”
The “very idea that in order to have soil fertility, you need to import things from 2,000 miles away just doesn’t make any sense,” Salatin said. “And farmers like us have proven that it doesn’t make any sense.”
Although many commercial farming practices don’t make financial sense and aren’t ecologically sustainable, Kennedy and Salatin agreed there is a great deal of inertia supporting them.
“There’s a huge amount of inertia in the system that will prevent all of those people west of the Appalachian and east of the Rocky Mountains — all those miles and miles of corn — how do they ever convert?” Kennedy asked. “Can they convert?”
Salatin said he believes commercial farmers — including corn farmers — can convert to the kind of practices used on Polyface Farm, but typically, it takes economic and cultural upheaval.
“People don’t make changes until they get hit in the head,” he said.
Salatin also noted that resistance to change is likely because the average U.S. farmer is now 60 years old and “60-year-olds tend to not like to make changes as much as 20-year-olds.”
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